Meta is doing itself no favors by focusing so heavily on VR thus giving space to Fortnite to lead
Last week, Meta showed yet another cringeworthy product of its US$10.2 billion investment in the metaverse: a demonic VR porcelain doll of Mark Zuckerberg that looked worse than a Second Life avatar from 2003. Hastily released in response to yet another round of universal mockery from all over the internet, it was still only marginally more expressive, and slightly more alive, than a Ken doll.
The worst part is not how bad it looks, but the fact that it is a symbol of how badly Meta is managing expectations for the metaverse. Anybody expecting that this metaverse thing will end up being a real-life version of the book and film Ready Player One is in for a huge disappointment. And so is Zuckerberg, when he finally realizes that only an insignificant fraction of enthusiasts are going to buy into this awkward dimension.
Meta launched its metaverse platform Horizon Worlds in Spain and France last week. But what would have been a celebratory occasion for Meta instead turned into an embarrassment after a commemorative virtual selfie from CEO Mark Zuckerberg was widely mocked for its unappealing visuals. The widely mocked photo, which included digital graphics of the Eiffel Tower and Spain’s La Sagrada Familia church, prompted comparisons not just to other metaverse platforms like Fortnite or Roblox, but to the broad world of video games.
Meta is doing itself no favors by focusing so heavily on VR. A central pillar of Zuckerberg’s vision for the metaverse is that it will involve a combination of VR and AR, and a great deal of the company’s immense US$10.2 billion expenditure last year has gone toward the development of next-generation devices Meta hopes will give it a competitive advantage in the future.
There’s an open question of whether VR and social platforms like Horizon Worlds are the right roads to building the metaverse. Video game platforms — most prominently Epic’s Fortnite, Microsoft’s Minecraft, and Roblox — seem to be doing just fine by focusing on engaging experiences and fun crossovers.
Fortnite, for instance, last week launched a popular crossover with iconic anime Dragon Ball Z, featuring excellent character skins and in-game items, many of which players can earn for free, which instantly created viral memes fodder.
In one of the more popular tweets lambasting Zuckerberg’s metaverse, one user commented on Zuckerberg’s VR selfie by writing, “In Fortnite you can be Goku with a shotgun.”
The Fortnite-DBZ collab has created countless hilarious moments — from Goku hugging Superman to the anime’s central hero doing the Griddy dance after a victory.
A common consensus I’ve seen is that this is what the metaverse should be: a silly, over-the-top mashup of pop culture in the vein of Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” (minus the dystopia), and one that’s underpinned by fun gameplay, competitive multiplayer and meaningful rewards for showing up and putting your time in.
Horizon Worlds lacks all of that, and there’s no easy path for Meta to clearing those hurdles unless it invests heavily in game development and the kinds of valuable and lucrative partnerships Epic has landed for Fortnite.